In Ontario, about 19% of all students are enrolled in rural public schools. In many rural communities, there has been a decline in the number of school-aged children.

We consulted with people on how we can serve these students effectively and make the best use of public resources. Our consultation was guided by a discussion paper, Supporting Students and Communities.

Consultation results


Sessions were held in 10 communities:

  • Merrickville
  • Lakefield
  • Picton
  • Amherstburg
  • Honey Harbour
  • Thedford
  • Markstay
  • Markdale
  • Wawa
  • Nipigon

We received feedback through an online survey and in-person meetings with students, parents, school boards and municipalities:

  • 561 online survey responses
  • 470 participants at the public meeting
  • 166 participants from school boards and municipalities at the stakeholder sessions

Executive summary of public and stakeholder feedback

The discussions explored three primary areas:

  • sustainable use of school space
  • decision-making around school closures
  • supporting quality education in rural communities

Feedback was recorded through meeting workbooks provided to participants, note-taking at each in-person session, emails and letters sent to the ministry and through the online survey.

Feedback from public meetings

Supporting use of school space

In this discussion area, participants were asked to discuss how school boards, governments and community partners can engage in better community planning, develop partnerships and share excess space in schools.

Key themes and suggestions included:

  • encourage greater and earlier communication and collaboration between school boards, municipalities and the province about long-term community planning. Many participants believe meetings with all stakeholders should be mandated
  • providing more provincial support and guidance on how to pursue community partnerships and greater clarity on space-sharing policies
  • address barriers to establishing community partnerships to:
    • encourage earlier dialogue on community hub planning, outside of public accommodation review process
    • break down silos between ministries, municipalities and boards
    • recognize the financial and other challenges faced by community partners
  • ensure that decisions to share space with community partners are purpose-driven – that it adds value to student well-being
  • mandate or incent school boards to share space with each other or with community partners
  • remove incentives that could make boards unwilling to share space

Decision-making around school closures

In this discussion area, participants were asked about how the accommodation review process can better engage them and their communities, and how it can better incorporate their feedback.

Key themes and suggestions included:

  • the public accommodation review process be improved and offer communities more flexibility
  • the process must be more inclusive of community and student perspectives and balanced with input related to community impact
  • establish clear principles and goals for student achievement and well-being in ARC reviews. They should notfocus on costs and capacity alone
  • communicate with the public early and continuously, actively promoting the process, providing plain language information and reporting on what was heard
  • clarify responsibilities of participants in the ARC process, including trustees, municipal officials, and the public.
  • have the province play a leadership role, organizing discussions and providing incentives to municipalities, school boards and community partners to collaborate

Supporting quality education in rural communities

In this discussion area, participants were asked about what is working well in their communities, what needs improvement and the ways the funding formula can be better tailored to meet their needs.

Key themes and suggestions included:

  • education in small rural schools can advantageous for students and is working well in many places
  • there is a need for greater equity in access to transportation options, mental health and other services and educational programming opportunities
  • There is a need for a separate funding model for rural schools; the current per-student funding model is seen to put rural schools at a disadvantage
  • Establish a clear definition of rural and remote schools that allows flexibility.
  • Create opportunities for the community and the parents to become more involved.
  • Ensure the culture and language in the community is being preserved and respected.

Feedback from the online survey Feedback on the >pupil accommodation review

The majority of respondents were disappointed with the pupil accommodation review process they experienced.

Most noted that the process felt controlled and that opportunities to share ideas and find solutions were not provided.

Some also felt that parents and accommodation review committees’ efforts to find alternatives were under-resourced and not supported by the board.

Improving communication was another persistent theme. Many respondents noted that consultations on the future of schools should occur earlier, that boards need to communicate with municipalities, that public engagement needs to be more frequent and better advertised.

Suggestions for creating more community hubs in schools

Many respondents believed that there is little incentive for school boards to partner with community organizations.

Many also that the cost of the school space can be prohibitive for partners.

Many respondents believed that school boards do not know what potential partners exist in their community.

Several noted that municipalities, the province and the boards need to collaborate to explore partnership opportunities.

Many respondents listed the types of partners they would like to see in hubs.

Sharing space between boards

Ideas that could help remove barriers or create opportunities for school boards to share space

Many respondents argued that boards need more policy direction from the Ministry to share space – more incentives or mandate to make best use of resources and share space.
Several suggested that capital funding applications should require proof that co-terminus space-sharing options have been exhausted before funding is granted.

Other input

Respondents were given the opportunity to share any other feedback they desired.

Most respondents gave suggestions about the kinds of educational programming they would like to see in school, such as French language, e-learning and skilled trades programs.

Other suggestions centred on sharing space and resources between boards and partners.

Many also noted that rural schools have unique needs and advantages –a one-size-fits-all approach to funding is inadequate.